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News / Life / Clark County Life

New works by Clark College maestro Don Appert debut at weekend concerts

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian staff writer
Published: June 15, 2018, 6:05am
6 Photos
Maestro Don Appert on the podium. His new Concerto for Cello and Orchestra gets its world premiere during a free concert on Sunday night in Vancouver.
Maestro Don Appert on the podium. His new Concerto for Cello and Orchestra gets its world premiere during a free concert on Sunday night in Vancouver. (Provided photo) Photo Gallery

A Saturday night choir-and-band concert at Clark College will feature classics such as “America the Beautiful” and Richard Rodgers’ “Victory at Sea,” but the highlight you really don’t want to miss is a little gem called “It’s Rich,” by Clark College’s own maestro and music professor, Don Appert.

“It’s Rich,” a seven-minute piece that recalls the swinging sounds of the 1940s, enjoyed a sort of double inspiration. Appert wrote it mostly to honor the memory of his father, a fun-loving man, Scout leader and Army Air Forces bombardier during World War II who taught his kids things like “Junior Birdmen,” the rousing, corny theme of an aviation club for kids in the 1930s — complete with comedic hand motions. You’ll catch a jolly quote or two from “Junior Birdmen” as “It’s Rich” moves along, Appert said.

“My dad was a real character, and he would have gotten a bang out of it,” he said — recalling that, back in his father’s day, the expression “It’s rich” or “That’s rich” meant that your claim or assertion was totally ridiculous, and took nerve to make. That’s the kind of guy his father was, Appert said with a laugh.

But the other spark for “It’s Rich” is Appert’s departing colleague, Richard Inouye. After directing bands at Clark College for the past 11 years, Inouye is on the verge of retirement. Saturday night’s concert will be the last one Inouye conducts at Clark. “It will be a fantastic and heartfelt concert,” said Jacob Funk, Clark’s director of choirs.

If You Go

What: “Amber Waves of Grain” concert.

Featuring: Clark College Concert Choir and Concert Band.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: O’Connell Sports Center at Clark College, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver.

Admission: Free.


What: “The Russian Connection” concert.

Featuring: Clark College Orchestra.

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, 3101 Main St., Vancouver.

Admission: Free

So Appert had more than enough inspiration, but he didn’t have an actual deadline until Inouye revealed his retirement plans last year. “It’s Rich” is a piece “I’d promised Rich Inouye but hadn’t gotten around to writing,” Appert said. “When he told me he was going to retire, I was shocked. He’s younger than me.” Appert said he thought of Inouye’s, and his father’s, high spirits as he composed.

This concert will be a double-header, with the Clark College Concert Choir, directed by Jacob Funk, also performing vocal music by William Billings, Shawn Kirchner and William Hawley, among others. In the end, choir and band will merge for a couple of rousing finales.

Jazzy classical

That’s not all from Appert and Clark College this weekend. On Sunday night, over at the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics, you can hear Appert and the Clark College Orchestra deliver the world premiere of Appert’s new Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, with featured soloist Jeffrey Butler of the Houston Symphony playing an instrument built a few years ago by luthier Mark Moreland of Battle Ground.

In fact, Moreland provided the initial spark for the piece when Butler, something of a rock star in the cello world, came to him to have a fine instrument handmade. Moreland got busy, but also challenged Appert to get busy too: “You should get Don Appert to write you a piece that’ll show off my cello — that would be a cool thing.”

Butler accepted the suggestion. He sent Appert some recordings of his cello playing and Appert responded with the first movement of a new concerto. A musical match was made. But two airplane seats are a must for a rock-star cellist traveling with a rock-star cello, and Appert said his student-fees fund couldn’t afford that. So Moreland provided still more spark, earning the title “sponsor” for this free concert by buying the airplane tickets. “Mark was very generous to do that,” Appert said.

The way Appert describes it, that first movement is pretty complex and grave. It memorializes his friend Karen Gist, a cellist he used to work with who was ready for a fun retirement when she suddenly died of a heart attack in 2016.

“The first movement evolved as a reaction to that loss. In that sense the concerto has a really strong connection to me personally,” he said, and it draws from the hymn “Dies irae” and the Requiem Mass for the Dead.

But things pick up after that. “For some reason, whenever I write these concertos, there’s always a certain amount of jazz-rock that gets into the piece,” Appert said. “The third movement is pretty much sounding like … Chicago or Blood, Sweat and Tears. It’s funny because at first I always think, I’m supposed to be a serious classical composer, I’m not supposed to sound like this. But these are the musical ideas I have.”

Brass players are usually used to jazzy rhythms and bebopping syncopation, he said, but classical string players — not so much. Therefore, he said, “It’s really exciting to see my orchestra respond to my ideas. I’m really very excited by this whole experience and I hope that people will really enjoy the music,” he said.

Unveiling a new piece is “a little scary” for Appert, he said. “In some ways, maybe it’s the closest thing to a man having a baby. The chance to present my own musical ideas and to work with a cellist of this quality is a wonderful experience.”

Don’t worry, traditional classical fans: Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 4 in F-minor is also on the program.